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The Life and Career of Mikheil Saakashvili: The Lawyer Who Would Be President

( 13 votes, average: 3.8 out of 5)
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Saakashvili is currently in the news as the face of one side of a war, with Vladimir Putin of Russia representing the other side. Georgia was invaded last week by Russia, catapulting Saakashvili onto the world stage. Cast as a freely elected leader versus the autocratic tendencies of Russia, Saakashvili has become a face for democracy. He's also an inevitable underdog when it comes to going up against the Russian war machine.

What isn't so well known is that Saakashvili is also an attorney, and even practiced in the United States at one point.


Saakashvili, born in December 1967 in Tbilisi, Georgia, graduated from the School of International Law at Kiev State University in 1992. Kiev, of course, is in Ukraine. Saakashvili then came to the United States, where he received an LLM from Columbia Law School in 1994. For those who don't know, an LLM, or Master of Laws degree, is what attorneys trained in other countries get when they come to the United States so that they can practice law in the US.

After receiving his Columbia law degree, Saakashvili went on to take more classes at the George Washington University Law School, in Washington, DC.

Saakashvili then served as an associate at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler for a year, before returning to Georgia and proceeding with his career.

His law practice and classes were focused on international law, which has come in handy in his current position as President of Georgia.

"He was a very energetic and spirited individual," said George Bermann, who taught Saakashvili European Union law and transnational litigation and arbitration. "He took the types of classes people who want to change the world took," remarked Lori Damrosch, who led his International Institutions in Transition seminar.

At Patterson Belknap, Saakashvili worked in the international law group that Patterson maintains. According to Scott Horton, the partner who supervised him at the time, Saakashvili was ''always concerned about corruption issues.''

Another anecdote from Horton relates how once, when Saakashvili was about to head home for the holidays, Horton asked him to look for information that could be helpful in an arbitration involving a Ukrainian steel plant. Saakashvili came back after the holidays with "an incredible wealth of information about all the inside deals relating to the plant. He got far more than we thought possible." Patterson's client won at arbitration, thanks in part to the information Saakashvili managed to collect.

While not many attorneys and law students go on to become presidents, it is clear that Saakashvili is a man to be respected. Those who wonder about the value of an American legal education can see in President Saakashvili just how such an education can help launch a career.

One hopes that the conflict between Georgia and Russia is resolved peacefully, but one thing is clear: Mikheil Saakashvili will be right in the thick of it.
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

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